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IN OUR VIEW/Roe v. Wade: Controversial decision handed nearly 50 years ago today

January 21, 2022 at 10:00 p.m.

Forty years ago today the U.S. Supreme Court handed down what remains arguably its most controversial ruling.

The case involved a Texas woman named Norma McCorvey. In 1969 she found out she was pregnant. It was her third child and she did not want to carry the fetus to term. But state law only allowed for abortion when the mother's life was in danger.

She would eventually give birth to the child, but the decision she made to challenge Texas law would have nationwide ramifications.

She found two attorneys to take her case. A lawsuit was filed against Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade challenging the state's abortion law. To protect McCorvey's privacy. the suit was filed under the name of Jane Roe.

McCorvey won in district court, which felt that the Ninth Amendment case Griswold v. Connecticut had established a right to privacy. The state of Texas appealed.

The case ended up before nation's highest court in 1971. Arguments were heard. The justices retired to consider their decision.

And on Jan. 22, 1973 -- 49 years ago today--the court ruled by a 7-2 majority that abortion fell within the right to privacy, but under the Fourteenth Amendment rather the Ninth..

"This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy,' Justice Harry Blackmun wrote for the majority in Roe v. Wade.

The dissenting justices -- Byron R. White and William Rhenquist -- believed the court had gone too far and created a right out of thin air.

"I find nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the Court's judgment. The Court simply fashions and announces a new constitutional right for pregnant women and, with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invests that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes," White wrote in his dissent.

It is interesting to note that the focus of the majority decision was not that abortion in itself was an absolute right--in fact, the court rejected that argument--but that a woman and her physician should be free to make the best decision for the woman's physical or mental health. States were still allowed some regulatory power over abortions.

But over the past five decades concern for the the physical and mental health of the mother has given way to the politically-inspired mantra of "choice."

Millions of legal abortions later, the ruling in Roe v. Wade still astounds. The court crafted a federal right out of thin air. Abortion law had always been up to the states. And that's where the final decision should rest today.

Norma McCorvey -- Jane Roe -- later regretted her stance and became a fierce opponent of abortion. She learned from her mistake.

The Supreme Court never has. So far. Maybe the current crop of justices will change that.

Print Headline: IN OUR VIEW/Roe v. Wade: Controversial decision handed nearly 50 years ago today

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